Visit Yellowstone National Park whenever the park’s roads are open (typically April to late October), and there’s always the possibility of crowds at popular highlights (e.g., Old Faithful), long waits at restaurants, and gridlock caused by animals on the road or nearby.
The possibility increases to certainty – particularly crowds and congestion – during the peak summer months.
It is for those reasons I’ve made every effort to visit the park after the summer crowds are gone. In all the years I’ve visited Yellowstone National Park, I think I’ve only been there once in June and maybe twice in August. All other times I’ve been there in late September or October.
The August trips in particular resulted in long waits, traffic congestion, and not much in the way of solitude or a wilderness experience.
The National Park Service (NPS) has long recognized the problems, given the increasing numbers of visitors each year. Park visitation has increased by 40 percent since 2008, with 4,257,177 visits in 2017.
The problem is made worse by the number of visitors entering the park by private vehicles. The estimate is as high as 78 percent.
It should be noted that traffic congestion is primarily limited to only a segment of the park. Congestion is highest in the road from West Yellowstone to Madison Junction, and from there south to Old Faithful, and from there north to Norris to Canyon to Fishing Bridge. These are the park areas having significant appeal to visitors with features such as the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Old Faithful.
But while traffic congestion has gotten worse, there appear to be resistance to some proposed solutions to the gridlock.
A 2016 NPS study indicated that people do not want to be limited to when and how they can go in the park. This makes the use of mandatory shuttle buses, as is done in Zion National Park, problematical at least for now.
But in the end, the coming years may force the imposition of visitor limits and mandatory mass transit.
The expectation is that numbers of annual visitors will continue to increase. At the same time, the park faces the threats of climate change to vegetation, putting the park’s animals under increasing stress. Exacerbating the problem will be the pressure from more people and vehicle noise and pollution.
The time for tough decisions and a solution is now. But any decision will require monies to be spent – something that will be extremely difficult given the budget cuts being imposed on the NPS by the Trump regime.
In the end, I think we will at least see mandatory shuttles to places such as Old Faithful during the peak summer season. Much of what a visit to the park once was may be lost, but hopefully the best parts of the park experience can be preserved.
Hatch Magazine has an article on this topic. You can read the article here.